Sixty Fish, Senator.

Winter Steelhead PHOTO: Conrad Gowell

Dave Carpenter, North Santiam River Steward and fishing guide, has written to just about everyone he can think of, trying to figure out what can be done to protect winter steelhead in his home waters. At the time he wrote this, only 60 wild steelhead had returned above Lower Bennett Dam.

Below is one of his letters to Senator Fred Girod, a republican politician who who lives in Stayton and serves the mid-Willamette Valley in the Oregon State Senate. Already listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, this population of wild winter steelhead is likely to be up-listed to endangered-- immediate action should be taken to reduce hatchery and harvest related impacts to these fish.

Senator Girod,

I’m writing today to thank you for your recent support of SB3 prohibiting motorized in-stream placer mining. When I met with you to discuss a similar bill last year, I learned that although we shared similar concerns related to anadromous fish species, you were not in support of that measure. I’m glad that you had a change of heart. It also gives me confidence that you will give consideration to some ideas I will share below.

As you are probably aware, the Wild Winter Steelhead run in the Upper Willamette Basin crashed hard this year. These ESA listed fish that once numbered in the 10’s of thousands (or more) have been holding their own for the past several years. However, this year’s run turned out to be 10-15% of the normal. On “our” river, the North Santiam, we saw a drop from a norm of 700-1,000 fish down to around 60 (counted at Upper and Lower Bennett Dams near Stayton).

Sixty fish Senator.

This iconic fish, in the river that you and I reside along, is in jeopardy of blinking out completely if something isn’t done soon.

The numbers so far, though early, for Spring Chinook Salmon (another ESA listed species) and Summer Steelhead are indicating that returns may be similarly disastrous.

Your support of SB3 is only one piece of the puzzle as there are numerous issues impacting our fish – forestry practices, sea lions, cormorants, gill nets on the Columbia – the list goes on and on. However, nothing can be done in those regards that will have an immediate effect on the Winter Steelhead that returned this year, or the Spring Chinook that will make it home to the headwaters this spring.

However, there is something that can be done right now that will offer some protection to these fish. I suggest an immediate closure of angling for anadromous species on the North Santiam River and it’s tributaries. I realize this would be a very unpopular move, but the fate of our fish hangs in the balance. My correspondence with the local ODFW biologist (and others) has so far been ignored. What happened to our winter run under their watch was negligent, and maybe even criminal. The only response from ODFW so far this year in the Willamette District was a thinly veiled regulation update that was really an advertisement to purchase your 2 rod validation.

An angling closure would take pressure off of the kelting wild Winter Steelhead heading back to the ocean and provide protection for the wild Spring Chinook that make it here. There would also be a benefit to the hatchery program at Minto as more of the broodstock would make it to the trap at Packsaddle.

I would also suggest one last unpopular idea to you and that would be the termination of the Skamania Summer Steelhead Program here on the North Santiam. In my mind, intentionally placing an introduced (invasive) species on top of an ESA listed species is outrageous. Skamania fish are proven to naturalize and not migrate (basically becoming riverine rainbow trout), they are as proven to stray into unintended waters (Little North Santiam) and compete with native Winter Steelhead at every stage of the life-cycle. With our Winter Steelhead in such a dire situation, continuing this program is a death sentence for our wild fish.

I hope that you will give considerations to my concerns and ideas. We have a crisis here on our river. I am doing everything in my power to save these fish, to the detriment of my licensed fishing guide service and personal recreational angling here on the North Santiam. It’s that important to me, Senator.

You recently introduced legislation (that passed I believe) to make the Osprey our State Bird. The Osprey is a bold, fearless, and magnificent species and does represent the spirit of Oregonians. I urge you to do what you can, in the spirit of the Osprey, to address this issue with all due haste. Fold your wings back, point your beak down and dive into this with full force.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Davie Carpenter
Your Downstream Neighbor

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